On an early morning day during Covid-19 confinement, Agnė Šniukienė, the leader of Ironmama, a triathlon club uniting strong and ambitious women, opens the doors of her home in Vilnius Pavilniai Regional Park. Usually, before the clock strikes 8 am, she will have already completed her pool training session; however, she made an exception on that day so that we could meet, and was waiting for little Alexandra to wake up. While Agnė is showing us around the house, sharing her plans for the day and talking about the club, dad Arūnas descends the stairs with their little daughter in his arms, her arms wrapped around his neck. A quick breakfast with her dad, a bath, and the little one is ready for the kindergarten, where she will be taken by Agnė before the workout with Ironmama Club members. After a chat with Arūnas at their home, we meet Agnė and her like-minded namesake with the latter’s husband Audrius at the gym.
The story of the Ironmama is the story of the second season of the HeForShe campaign initiated by the National Olympic Committee of Lithuania (LNOC). The objective of this United Nations project is to invite men to show their solidarity with women and, together with them, actively aspire for equal gender opportunities and be a united and visible driving force of change.
She got into sport while expecting her daughter.
“While expecting Alexandra, she began exercising a little, she tried a few sports, something she had never done before in her life. When our daughter was born, she attended the swimming pool with her. She found a sports club close to our home, where she also met like-minded people. Her coach Inga Paplauskė, who is able to motivate and empathise with her athlete clients, made a great influence on her,” Arūnas told us about how his wife started getting into sport. A group of women from the surrounding streets and courtyards, including Agnė, attended the workouts at the sports club, and during the Covid-19 confinement they would meet virtually and would do sports. Eventually, after returning to the sports club, a new initiative was born – the idea of Ironmama.
“The workouts at the studio were called “Active Mom”. During the confinement period, we did sports at home with whatever weights we had. I only had the weights of 12 kg, so I used them for the workouts, even though I would most likely opt for only 6 kg. at the studio. When at the studio, I was doing sports without a child, while at home I had another 12 kg on my back! After the confinement was over, the coach noticed that we were no longer “active mums”, but rather real “iron mamas”. Our favorite workout was “Iron Butt” (the workout for the buttocks ‒ author’s note). So the transition from “Active Mom” and “Iron butt” resulted in Ironmama. We really liked the name and it has stuck,” says Agnė. Seeing how the ironmamas had gotten stronger, Irena Paplauskė, a multiple triathlon champion and coach, suggested that they try preparing for the triathlon ‒ she informed them that they would merely have to “ride, run, and swim”. The women found this task manageable, although they had to tame the water.
Agnė’s Husband Immediately Offered His Help
“Having heard that we were preparing for triathlon and would be Ironmama, Arūnas only asked if I could swim. I could not. “I will have to go to the pool, will you take care of our child?” “Of course I will!” he said, encouraging his wife’s enthusiasm. Moreover, he also made sure she had a bike to ride. One day, a bicycle salesman called Agnė and invited her to “try on” one of his bicycles, because Agnė’s husband had already explained to him that his wife needed a pair of “wheels” for track cycling. After taming the water and having taken care of her sports equipment, Agnė began creating a group where ironmamas could communicate. She also started creating a logo. Here again, Arūnas rushed to help in any way he could without having been asked.
“I designed the logo, but I’m not a designer, so my husband said: “Send it to my company’s designer, she’ll do it.” Then I said: “We need T-shirts, that’ll be about a hundred euros.” Ultimately, the bill reached 700 Euros, I was afraid to tell him that the amount has gone up a bit. He said: “It’s all right, as long as you enjoy it and you’re visible”. Arūnas admits that when the new initiative was born, he was actually the first one to offer financial help ‒ he wanted to motivate them and still does this when needed.
“Without his help, I am not sure if Ironmama would have taken off so quickly, because he not only morally supported me, but he was also the first sponsor to take care of the other girls’ bikes and all our merchandise. He helped us feel attractive during competitions and gave me freedom to excercise,” says Agnė.
“Keep the Home Fires Burning”
He heart sings about one more thing: under the circumstances in which Arūnas has to keep their home fires burning, the bond between Alexandra and Arūnas has grown stronger.
While at home, her husband does have some chores, at least in the kitchen ‒ to bake pancakes for the little one, who deftly helps her dad with the ingredients, or cook buckwheat porridge. Arūnas doesn’t take much credit here ‒ it’s not really that difficult.
“It’s really hard to juggle between the duties of a mother, an employee and a wife. When we invite new mothers to become ironmamas, we tell them that we will share our know-how. I couldn’t do much without my husband’s help. For example, if I have a competition at the weekend, he gets up earlier, inflates the tyres, puts all the equipment together, kisses me, wishes me luck, and then goes back to bed, then gets up and, together with Alexandra, makes pancakes,” says Agnė.
Arūnas works in another city for half of the week, but when he’s at home, he always tries to show their daughter attention, whom he misses so much, and to spend time with her so that Agnė can fulfil her sports plans.
“Sometimes it feels like you no longer manage anything, because you have work, children, home duties… Then I say: “I won’t complete my plan again,” and he says: “I’ll take care of the little one, I’ll put her to sleep, off you go.” I still get surprised with such care, because the older generation, e. g. my parents, don’t really understand that mom has a competition now, that mom is going to do running now. There are still stereotypes about the husband letting the wife do such things, while it’s quite natural to me, because we’ve always had an understanding that we can’t limit each other; but I understand that not all women have that, not all men have enough awareness about that and that a happy mother is a happy family,” says Agnė.
Arūnas is aware of this and says that during weekends, he tries to find a balance between his wife’s desire to do sports and his time with his wife and daughter. “If she goes out for a run, I take the bike, put the child in the seat and ride next to her; or we both go cycling, take the child with us and have lunch in town. We try to combine everything,” he says.
However, Arūnas sees more than just his own contribution to his wife’s success with Ironmama. Her Samogitian obstinacy has also helped. “Because she is from Samogitia, that obstinacy helps her achieve results. I am proud of her being really good at all the triathlon sports: swimming, cycling and running. I think cycling is her favourite activity, but she’s also good at swimming and running ‒ she just needs longer legs, so to speak,” he laughs.
From the very beginning when they met, Agnė has impressed Arūnas with her positive thinking and exuding energy. “Since I am, not as much a pessimist, but rather a realist, I am really delighted to be around an individual who exudes positivity and lifts my mood, and the energy Agnė radiates is very important to me, because I am a bit of a slow poke myself, I need time to think, and she’s more spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment. This is also reflected in her sport,” her husband speaks about another component part of her success.
Agnė Klimaitienė, the namesake of the Ironmama leader, set off on the triathlon sports journey while she was still on maternity leave, when she had enough free time and easily managed to fit in workouts into her routines.
“I really wanted to test me in this sport. My husband and I would agree on things. My husband helps me a lot anyway ‒ he cooks, does the room if necessary, or looks after the kids. It was nothing new for him. It’s just that he now had to spend more time with the children,” says Agnė.
Her spouse Audrius says that sport requires time, which we don’t have indefinitely. So it is natural that if someone does sport, someone else has to stay at home more. “But everything came out naturally. I don’t feel any drastic change. It took an effort on both sides ‒ for her it meant getting up earlier and swimming in the pool as early as 5am, and for me taking care of the kids a bit more,” Audrius says, without putting any emphasis on his contribution.
His wife Agnė, he says, had enough determination and stubbornness to get up at 5 a.m. and go swimming ‒ not everybody can do it. “You can make yourself do it a few times, but not all the time. Or she gets up at 6.30 am for a run. It’s about her own willingness to do this, to change,” says Audrius, adding that these personal qualities help her balance between sport, home and work, and to allocate her time in a way that allows her to fulfil herself in sport and in the Ironmama community. Moreover, he says, having cleared one’s head through sport, one returns to their family in a better mood and with clearer thoughts.
Of course, Agnė admits that there were also turning points when Ironmama started gaining impetus, when her husband noticed that she was already spending “a lot of time” with the group of women doing sports. Having talked things over, they would finally find a solution; for example, at a certain period their family was assisted by a nanny. But even when looking for ways to reconcile everything, her husband demonstrated support, which he does to this day.
“The most important thing I’m grateful for is his support, because there have been times when intensive training was not giving any results. Then you come back home and say you quit, you don’t want to do it anymore… And he says: “Wait a minute, you’ve only been doing this for a month; you’ve been exercising for two months only…. Professional athletes have been doing this all their lives; it takes them a long time to get what they want, to achieve something, so don’t you give up.” He was supportive and encouraged me to keep going; support was the greatest good at that time and it hasn’t disappeared, it’s still there,” says Agnė.
Audrius believes that it is important to treat the person you love the way you would like to be treated. He hopes that his wife will also follow this rule.
“I used to travel extensively for a few years before the confinement, and my wife stayed at home with the children, but now the situation has changed and I have to let her go more often. Life is long, hopefully we will live together for a long time, maybe we will have to swap again,” smiles the man.
Today, he is delighted with Agnė having found not only sport, but also like-minded people and friends at Ironmama. “The women’s community that has formed there is strong, you can see the cakes in the changing room ‒ it’s obvious that people come here not only to do sports, but also to celebrate birthdays. There’s a clothes rack here, they exchange clothes, they sell things to each other. They go to competitions, and if they don’t take part in them, they go to support them. Agnė, the leader of Ironmama, got even involved in the Triathlon Federation. It’s not just about sport anymore, it’s about a community and a way of life. Even the children now cycle together,” says Audrius, delighted with what his wife’s sporting activities have grown into.